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A new federal code revising the “Lobbyists’ Code Of Conduct” aims to broadly restrict lobbying by public office holders, including individuals who work as unpaid campaign volunteers, according to federal Lobbying Commissioner Nancy Bélanger.
“The objective of this Code is to foster transparent and ethical lobbying of federal officials,” Bélanger wrote on May 27 in a legal notice obtained by Blacklock’s Reporter.
Bélanger added that the revisions to the code—which are set to take effect in July—will work “in concert with the ethical regimes that apply to federal officials.”
The revisions represent the first made to the Lobbyists’ Code Of Conduct in eight years.
The revised code will include a new “sense of obligation” clause restricting lobbying by any public office holder in a situation where “the official could reasonably be seen to have a sense of obligation to you because of political work, paid or unpaid.”
The clause also broadly defines “political work” to include a number of actions typically carried out by campaign volunteers, such as “soliciting or gathering donations,” “disseminating campaign materials,” or acting as a campaign advertiser, researcher, or spokesperson.
However, the restrictions outlined in the new clause would not apply to lobbyists who are either party members, express “personal political opinions,” “display election signs,” donate to a party, or visit campaign rallies.
Restriction for Lobbyists Seeking Favours
The revised code will also restrict lobbying by any public office holder “where the official could be seen to have a sense of obligation towards you because you have a close relationship with the official,” with the term “close relationship” being defined as a family member, friend, “romantic partner,” joint investor, and others.
“Ethical lobbying requires a commitment to openness,” Bélanger wrote in the notice. “Conducting transparent lobbying ensures officials understand the purpose of lobbying activities and on whose behalf they are carried out.”
“Being trustworthy and respectful supports informed decision making by officials and, in turn, public confidence in federal government institutions.”
The advocacy group Democracy Watch on March 27 raised concerns about the new lobbying rules, saying they will “legalize bribery by allowing for favour-trading between lobbyists and politicians.”
Democracy Watch has also said the incoming new rules will allow people to do important campaign work for a politician and then lobby that same politician shortly afterward. The group also contends that the sense of obligation gives that lobbyist an unfair advantage.
Bélanger has said the changes are needed because the lobbying code needs to be clarified in order to be more enforceable.
Tara MacIsaac contributed to this report.